SEO means Search Engine Optimization. Some people talk about SEO like it’s a matter of life and death for their website. It’s not – but it is important. Here’s what you should know.
A) A website written in semantically correct HTML (i.e., with no major technical screw-ups) will be found and indexed automatically by search engines. As long as your site is constructed properly, it will be discovered. This won’t happen instantly. Search engines have bots that crawl through the Web looking for sites, and they may not index your new site right away. They also may take some time to pick up on changes to an existing site.
B) Optimizing means jiggering the text, HTML and metadata (data about your site, like keywords and descriptions) so that your site ranks highly on search engines. Most people doing a search only check the links on the front page of their results, so ranking matters.
C) How search engines determine rank is complicated, but the most important parameter is how many other quality sites link to your site. Linking shows credibility and popularity, and is hard to fake (though God knows people try). There’s a certain circular aspect to this. Over time, top-ranked sites tend to get more popular, although they may have to keep optimizing to maintain their position. So it’s just like high school.
D) There are hundreds of other parameters that search engines use to rank sites. They change all the time. That’s why there is a whole industry of experts whose only job is optimizing websites to within an inch of their lives.
E) Website designers will take care of basic SEO: using semantically correct HTML, writing some custom meta descriptions, etc. But expert-level work is not usually part of the basic package.
F) Don’t lose your head over this. Most businesses don’t get their clients from random searches. As long as potential customers can find your site when they search for your business, you’re ahead of the game.